Right off the bat, we’ve an internal conflict: Melbourne singer-songwriter Maribelle opens the bill – a sold out four-act Enmore Theatre frothfest – with somewhat of an underwhelming showcase. Her backing tracks sit too quietly in the mix and sound muffled – as if her DJ couldn’t afford the Spotify bill and ripped them from YouTube in a pinch. Speaking of her DJ, he’s the epitome of unnecessary; he spends most of the set dancing and standing around, and on the few occasions he actually touches his deck, he tweaks single knobs to no audible effect. On the other hand, Maribelle herself is phenomenal. Her voice outright demands attention, rippling through the hall with a bite as venomous as it is tender. She makes the stage her playground, spits every rhyme with precision and crushes every high note like an empty Sprite can under a boot.
Hometown heroes Spit Syndicate are up next, and from the second they snap into their first tooth-ratting anthem, have the whole goddamn venue in the palms of their hands. Nick Lupi and Jimmy Nice command the stage, firing out slick sung choruses and harsh rapped verses with a fierce confidence – as if they were playing to a crowd 500,000 and not 500. Lupi in particular is a spectacle, his oversized kimono dancing behind him like a cape when he darts from one side of the stage to the other. The pair are backed live with keyboards and guitar, which adds to their set a vivid personality that would be lost in the hands of a DJ. The set itself is jam-packed with surprises, too, cameos from Maribelle (“Inhibitions”) and Thelma Plum (“Hold Me Down”) standing out alongside choices cuts from the duo’s forthcoming fifth LP, One Good Shirt Had Us All Fly.
Though his set comes nowhere close to matching the sheer intensity of Spit Syndicate’s, Gold Coast producer Paces takes the stage with a sunny slew of boisterous and tropical-fused dancehall. Sans an occasional Launchpad riff or live-triggered drop via drum pad, Paces brings little to the table in terms of his own performance. As such, drawcards come courtesy of his dancers, Sarah and Hannah, and recurring drop-ins from vocalists Esther Sparkes and NYNE who both completely steal the show with their jaw-dropping melodies. Sure, it’s hard to fuck up your songs when all you’re doing is playing them through a MacBook, but with enough visual twists and turns to keep us engaged, we feel confident in saying that Paces puts on a decent show.
Not one to be shown up by his openers, though, Illy busts out with a full light and video production that spans the entirety of the Enmore’s liberal stage. The lyrics to “Forget It” beam above a dwarfed Alasdair Murray, the Melbourne rapper thoroughly emersed in his own deluge as every boastfully tight line flows from the PA like waves on a Tahitian island. He’s so cocky about the precision of those introductive bars that we almost want him to fuck up – but alas, it never happens. The ego is warranted. Fucking hell.
Ensuing cuts from Two Degrees – the ARIA #1-debuting fifth album on which Illy is touring – fly by in bursts of pop-driven elation. “Swear Jar” is an easy highlight later in the set, while in its anticipation, “Hazard To Myself” and “Looks Could Kill” bring the now-squishy venue off its collective feet. Punters fawn passionately over his early matierial, too – even a passing mention of The Chase (2010) is enough to elicit deafening cheers. Second only to closing number “Papercuts” (the last of a sprawling four-track encore), breakout hit “Cigarettes” draws the loudest singalong – one so emphatic it comes close to eclipsing Illy himself. Similarly hailed is the now-iconic “Ausmusic Month Medley” from his 2014 Like A Version sesh, and a slightly more recent flip of Peking Duk‘s “High”.
Tonight, Illy isn’t his usual overhyped and script-sticking self. A 90-minute runtime means he has the chance to pace himself and really connect with fans, which he does whenever at all possible. There are a few moments where he crouches down to personally address some of the punters on the barrier: a fourth-wall break that feels refreshing in a usual slew of shows where artists won’t break character unless it looks like someone’s dying. Between clusters of cuts are motivational speeches and uplifting quips: Illy is all about optimism, and the resultant is a vibe more welcoming than most hip hop shows.
Not to mention, the man is fucking talented: he whips around the stage and leaves not an inch without a footprint, all the while pouring every ounce of his energy into smashing out hard and honest verses without a hiccup in sight. In all, one only needs to witness his live show in person to see why Illy is reeling in new fans by the second.
– Ellie Robinson